It has been a different kind of year, but still – the house is festive, Arianna and Hannah decorated the cookies, we made our trip to see Santa and the Nativity, and Hannah enjoyed her Frosty cupcake as the snow melted outside. We are enjoying the joys of the season and settling in to await Santa’s arrival. From our home to yours – we send our best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a happy, HEALTHY and much different/better 2021!
We are always digging up “treasures” around here – broken glass, pieces of barbed wire, an old button. Every once in a while there is something a little more significant – a horse shoe, an old padlock, a drainage grate. As they say on Oak Island, a “top-pocket find” if it could fit it in a pocket. I hate to throw this trash away. It somehow belongs on the farm. So I came up with another of my crazy ideas that makes Chris roll his eyes – mostly because I needed his help.
I decided I need stepping stones in the garden. A square pizza box is just about the right size for a stepping stone – so after polishing off a pizza with mushrooms on Chris’ half, we got busy. He mixed the cement, I sorted through the box of “treasures” and created our first – of many more to come – stepping stones.
I have a lot of broken glass in all shades of the rainbow – from green to purple to blue to amber. I have old hinges, door latches and bucket handles. I don’t have a lot of pizza boxes. So every time we eat a pizza, we need a bag of cement. It may take a while, but eventually I’ll have the most unique garden walkway – ever.
Last year I tried plastic bags on my apples and grapes, but they got hot in the sun, created condensation, and the fruit I was trying to protect – rotted.
This year I made little mesh bags with drawstrings to protect our harvest. I made larger ones for the grapes, and little ones for the apples. I didn’t have to make that many though. I have one apple – yes ONE – on each of three apple trees. Despite a nice showing of apple blossoms, a late frost and snow flurries put an end to the apple harvest this year – almost spitefully leaving one apple of each variety so we can taste what we are missing. Before any more mishaps can befall my apples – I put each one in its own drawstring net bag.
I did the same with our crop of grapes – because I have yet to successfully get any grapes from these vines. This year is doubtful as well as we have spotted lantern flies, and they particularly like grapes. I covered each little cluster in its own little bag.
We also have 5 peaches hanging precariously on two peach trees – I covered them too. The raspberries and blueberries are were safely covered with bird netting over PVC frames. We got some blueberries this year, but the plants are still young. The raspberries have been the star of the fruit show this year – with a bowl full every day, but even they are slowing down in the heat of the summer.
Now all I can do is wait – or go to the grocery store.
We’ve added five more members to the farm family. After the problems we have each year when we do this, I’m surprised we both said – Yes, let’s do this insanity again.
We added five chickens to our existing flock of nine. Right now things are peaceful. The new peeps are living in a big crate in the garage. They have their own space, a heat lamp for the cool evenings and they are happy as can be. That’s because they don’t know about the chicken drama that will happen when we introduce them to the older hens. It’s never a good thing.
We added a lot of outdoor chicken run space so there is plenty of room for the 14 of them to spread out. We give them plenty of kitchen scraps, fresh water, cracked corn every afternoon for a treat and a coop full of clean wood shavings every week. You’d think everyone would be happy. But no, hens are never happy when you introduce new peeps into their territory. Maybe there is safety in numbers and having a flock of five newbies might go better than last year when we introduced two new chicks. We’ll wait until these chicks are almost as large as the hens and devise a temporary fence with chicken wire to keep the new chicks separate (and safe) for a couple of weeks until everyone gets to know each other – and then one night after dark, we’ll slip the new chicks in with the old hens in the roost and hope for the best.
Yes – I picked two tomatoes already – right at the end of June. But this year, I am also trying two different ways of growing tomatoes to see which works better. So far, I can’t tell.
The tomatoes in the garden on the east side of the house are growing on strings that help to keep them tall as they climb higher and higher. The tomatoes in the garden on the west side of the house are in traditional tomato cages. And they’re doing just fine too. They are both setting fruit and so far I picked one tomato from each garden.
I’ll probably weigh how many tomatoes I get from each garden so I can compare which side did better by the end of the year – but it’s not a fair comparison. The ones on the east side get more sun, got planted too early and were stunted by the Mother’s Day cold snap and are planted in rocky soil. The ones on the west side get afternoon shade, were planted once the weather had warmed up, and the soil is much nicer. So it might be difficult to say whether strings or cages make a difference. So far, I think I like the strings, even though it takes a bit of time to always keep the top of the plant twisted around the string – but it’s easier to move about between the plants. In the end, as long as I have enough tomatoes to put-up a lot of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, vegetable soup – and make a summer’s worth of BLT sandwiches – I don’t really care whether they were grown on strings or in cages!
Two weeks ago the hives were getting full of honey. We had 15 frames that were ready to extract, so Saturday morning we set up all the equipment and got to work. By the end of the day, we had 45 pounds of honey. That’s a lot of honey. But wait, there’s more…
This Saturday we did it again. We got another 60 pounds of honey. That’s 105 pounds so far this year. But wait, there’s even more…
The Linden trees are blooming and they are covered with honey bees. We’ll probably be extracting more honey in another week or two. So far, the honey we have extracted is VERY light – a white clover honey from all the clover flowers growing in the yard. It will be interesting to see if the Linden honey is as light, and how the flavor differs. But you know what they say… don’t count your honey until you have it in your jars (or something like that), so I don’t want to predict what the outcome might be.
Linden tree blossoms also make a very nice tea, so just in case we don’t get Linden honey, I picked some of the blossoms from a low hanging branch (along with the bract leaves attached to the blossom), dried them in the dehydrator and ground them up into tea. Some chilly night this fall, I’ll have a cup of Linden blossom tea – hopefully with a spoonful of Linden honey to go with it.
We had snow flurries two weeks ago. This week it’s 80 degrees. It’s been a rough spring – cold and wet and dreary. It made it hard to get my garden started. Not strong on patience, I jumped the gun, planted some of the things I had raised in the greenhouse too early – and lost them to the early May frost (even though I tucked them in with warm blankets, plastic tarps and up-side down buckets to help them through the cold nights). But…I guess that’s why I “accidentally” grew 248 tomato plants – I had a few extras.
The gardens look amazing, the weeds have been (temporarily) banished, and there is still space between the rows. In another month it will look like a jungle out there. Let the growing season begin!
We have three bee hives. One survived the winter, the other two needed new bees this spring. The one that survived the winter is strong and busy – too busy. They raised a new queen and split. Half of the hive took off looking for a new home. They got as far as a tree about 40 feet from the hive – and 40 feet in the air. So we watched and we waited – for days. They just hung there.
Finally we decided to attempt the impossible. Chris attached a bucket sprayed with sugar water to a really long pole, I grabbed a rake – and we both “suited up” with gloves, a bee veil and in my case – just about all the clothes I own. The first problem was getting to the tree. It’s up a steep hill, overgrown with berry brambles and wild roses (the only thing those wild roses grow is thorns!). Then we had to fight through vines that were climbing the tree. Once we were on the “up-side” of the tree, Chris could reach the swarm with the bucket. But just holding the bucket in place next to the swarm apparently wasn’t enticing enough. I reached up with the rake, snagged some vines and started pulling – hard enough to make the branch shake and the bees to fall into the bucket – except for the ones that didn’t fall into the bucket. Those took flight, and seemed to most enjoy the flight path around my face. Worse yet – there was no easy escape. For as difficult as it was to fight the hill, the brambles and the vines to get in there – it was even harder to get back out with bees flying around your face – yikes! Oh, and did I mention while doing all of that I was also trying to film it on my phone. I’d share it with you, but most of what you would see is the ground as I was trying to run away – and the audio (I definitely shouldn’t share that).
In the long run – we had success! We captured about 3/4th of the swarm, poured the bees into a small hive, put the lid on – and sighed a big relief. We weren’t really looking to add a fourth bee hive, so this one will stay in the small hive and hopefully live over the winter. That way, if we have a hive that doesn’t survive ’till next spring – we will have replacement bees ready to move into a full-sized bee hive. Here’s hoping!
Every year when it’s time to start digging in the garden, we hit rocks – more like boulders, and we dig them out. This year was no different – in fact – even worse.
I bought a broad fork – a pitch fork looking contraption with an ergonomic handle that’s made for gently lifting, fluffing, aerating the soil so that you don’t disturb the soil layers and all those earthworms as much as you would with a tiller. That was the plan.
Last weekend I started with just one bed in my vegetable garden – it’s 4′ x 20′. With the first thrust of my broad fork, I hit a rock so I went for my favorite shovel – the pink one that my sister gave me. It’s narrow, pointy and just the right size for me to get some leverage. I dug down and pried and prodded until I got the rock out. Whew. And then it happened again and again and again and again. I don’t know if the broad fork tines are longer than the reach of the tiller, or if the winter weather had heaved the rocks closer to the surface, but I think we dug up the foundation of an old barn. The rocks ran in a straight line – right down the entire length of the bed.
Chris said I was digging too deep – that vegetable roots only go so far, and the vegetable bed would be just fine if we left the rocks there. But I rotate crops in the garden – and this year – carrots need to go in that plot. And carrots won’t grow if they hit a rock. He pulled out his tractor with the front end loader – and as we dug, we filled the bucket – four times!
And then I started on the next bed… and there were more rocks, more tractor loads to haul out, and one rock in particular that won the prize. It was too big to haul out. We worked for about 4 hours and finally got it upright to take up less space, but now it looks like a tombstone in the garden.
The soil is gorgeous now. All the digging and prying and prodding may have disturbed the soil layers, but we mixed in compost and wood ash and planted the carrots. They better appreciate all that hard work and grow like never before!
Not only are we stuck here with a stay-at-home order for our county, but it’s pouring rain so I can’t even go outside. I have nothing better to do than bake.
This morning started with a loaf of sourdough bread. I’ve been keeping a sourdough starter alive since early December and we bake a loaf about once a week. Today was a good day for another loaf. The thing about sourdough starter is that to keep it alive you discard of most of it and “feed” it with fresh flour and water almost every day. I save those “discards” in the refrigerator and use them for making other things – like sourdough waffles. Today, I skimmed off a cup of the discards and made sourdough crackers with rosemary and sea salt.
But what kind of a baking day is that? Bread and crackers sound kind of boring – we needed something sweet. So now we have a pound cake too. And it’s only 12:00. What am I going to bake this afternoon? Maybe an angel food cake. Our nine hens lay about 8 eggs a day now which gives me plenty of egg whites – and no place to go.
If this keeps up, I’m not going to fit through the front door by the time the quarantine lifts and the sun comes out.